Lightwave Ultrahike review

I reckon getting the right rucksack is more difficult than the right footwear. At least with footwear you can do some trial walks where it becomes obvious quite quickly whether there are any problems. With packs, I think you need a good two-day walk to assess whether there are any issues.

I approached my recent trip with a modicum of apprehension as to whether the Ultrahike would live up to my expectations. It certainly felt good when I did a test load, but the real proof would come from my three-day trip in the Lakes last week.

I’m pleased to say that overall, then Ultrahike did well. It’s not perfect, but it is very good. The most important aspect of any pack is whether it carries well; other considerations are secondary. If it’s uncomfortable, everything else counts for nothing.

The Ultrahike has a generally comfortable and stable carry. Most of the weight is effectively transferred to the well designed hip belt. The hip belt is a great design. The split means that the top of the belt goes over the crest of your hip, while the bottom finger goes below. Unlike conventional hip belts this means there is no pressure on the point of the hip. It also helps ventilation and the hip belt was significantly less sweaty than some other designs. I’m a 34″ waist and the belt was near the end stops, so I don’t think it would fit waists smaller than 33″.

I addition to the main fastening buckle, there are two further buckles on each side that alter the tilt of the belt slightly. The semi-rigid plastic strips on each finger mean that the belt can effectively carry the entire weight of the pack quite easily. I was concerned that it might make the pack quite rigid, but, in fact, it was reasonably flexible. The only slight drawback was that the lower finger of the belt led to some slight tenderness where it rested on my buttock muscle. This eased on the third day as the plastic became more malleable and I suspect this is a pack that will improve over time. If I was redesigning it, I would make the padding a bit thicker here.

Although the shoulder straps are quite firm, they are well contoured and were very comfortable and reasonably well padded. The sternum strap was easy to adjust, although it was close to fully extended, even though I’m a 40″ chest. It’s a shame that there are no webbing ladders on the shoulder straps as it is difficult to add shock loops for a bottle. Although I started with a bottle attached to the shoulder straps, I changed to storing it in the side pocket.

The side pockets are very good. One side was big enough to hold my Scarp1 tent and peg bag. In the other pocket I had a water bottle, a Platypus type bottle (not always full), tripod and a hat or cap. The pockets are well positioned, so it is easy to access and replace a water bottle without dislocating your shoulder.

The lid pocket (which has a water-resistant zip) was big enough to hold a waterproof jacket and over-trousers plus a dry bag with valuables.  It’s a shame that there isn’t a separate pocket under the lid to keep valuables safe.

The main sack has a hydration sleeve, but no other pockets or compartments. It was a joy to have a relatively capacious sack, which swallowed my gear easily. Unlike the Mariposa or Ohm, I didn’t have to compress my sleeping bag and clothes too much. I could easily have fitted in some more gear if it had been necessary. The drawcord closure could be a bit wider.

Down each side is a draw string compression system. While I can see the logic for these systems, I think two cinch straps is a better system. The cords can catch on items packed into the side pockets. A webbing strap would also be more useful for securing long items such as a tent. I added a shock cord with a cord lock to secure my Scarp. This is a bit fiddly as the loops for the compression cord are quite small.

I also added some shock cord across the front of the pack to secure my walking poles. Theoretically the points of the walking pole can be placed through the ice axe loops (there’s a short run of elastic to secure the tips), but I felt my system was more secure and elegant. Again, the loops for the shock cord are quite small. Supplied with the pack is some shock cord on the top of the lid pocket. I found this useful to stash my jacket when I wasn’t using it.

I had some concerns that the back system might be quite sweaty as there is no spacer mesh. However, I found the reverse to be true. It was one of the least sweaty back systems I’ve used. It’s certainly a lot less sweaty than the Ohm and Mariposa. Although the foam pad is quite flexible, the “n” shaped aluminium frame means that the contents of the pack don’t dig into your back and it doesn’t require the careful packing that the Ohm, or to a lesser extent my Aether 60 requires.

Overall, I really like this pack. It will take another couple of trips for me to be sure, but I think it has the right compromises of being reasonably light weight (1150g), yet having a good back system that will easily carry heavier loads if necessary. With consumables and water, I was carrying about 13.5kg (base weight was just below 10kg). Hopefully the hip belt will soften a bit more. Even so I found the pack very comfortable. I don’t know how water-proof it is, but I put all my vulnerable gear in dry sacks. At least the pack shouldn’t absorb water as is the tendency of some other packs like the Exos.

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30 thoughts on “Lightwave Ultrahike review”

  1. I just don’t think the perfect pack exists as there will always be something we don’t like on each and every pack we try – I think, after a while, you just simply end up with one that has the least personal compromises. The Gorilla is damned near perfect for me, but is no good in the winter for what I need it for. Thus, it is, for me, a fantastic 3-season pack only. That’s the thing, I guess – you need a multitude of packs for different theatres and seasons. The Lightwave Ultrahike seems a nice, clean, well-designed and sensibly crafted pack. Thanks for the reviews – good reading as always.

  2. Robin – good detailed review as always. As you may know I chose the Pinnacle over this one, but I don’t know yet whether I have made a wise choice. Looking to do a trip at the end of month, but if I have time I will do a short walk with it tomorrow loaded up along the Lincolnshire Wolds (these hills are just a couple of miles from me) to see how it carries. You are right, it takes a few days to see how a pack performs.
    Mark

    1. I’m a bit wary of frameless packs, which is why I ruled out the Pinnacle. However, what suits me won’t suit everyone 😉

  3. Thanks for the Ultrahike review, I agree with you on the side cords I do not like them either and would prefer side straps and I would also like to see a small packet under the lid for valuables.

    My testing has shown that the pack is not completely water proof so you were wise to protect your must keep dry gear in dry bags and also the pack material absorbes water, when I tested my pack in rain it put on over 250g of weight, in a real heavy drenching it may absorb more water.

    I will be giving my Ultrahike a good trial in a month so will post a review then.

    Tony

    1. I would always use dry bags in any rucksack, even if it was “guaranteed” waterproof. I presume that the pack fabric doesn’t absorb much water unlike many packs (e.g. the Exos).

  4. What do you see as the maximum comfortable load for this pack? It seems to have a real carrying system so it might handle a decend load? The 60 liter capasity will limit the pack a bit but if one would attach tent, one rolltop bag and some other stuff on the outside in the beginning of a long trip, how much weight would the pack carry nicely?

    1. Lightwave suggest a maximum load of 18kg. I see no reason why it shouldn’t carry that weight comfortably. The frame and hip belt are very good. My maximum weight with food and water was 13.5kg, which I had at the start of the walk.

  5. Great review, Robin!

    The search for the perfect pack goes on and on…

    I’m a great fan of the Osprey Talon series, which I find very, very comfortable and highly practical. Only problem is that, as you say about the Exos, they do absorb a lot of water when you’re caught out in the rain.

    The Ultrahike is an intriguing alternative. Are the shoulder straps more or less the same size/design/cut as the Osprey packs? It’s always the problem area for me, shoulder straps. ULA and OMM packs are a no-no for me because of that issue (I’m quite beefy in that area and if the straps are too wide, they cut into the flesh). In your first picture, the cut looks rather similar to the Osprey packs. Am I right??

    Cheers,
    W.

    1. They are slightly slimmer but more padded. Unfortunately not many shops stock the Ulrahike so trying one on can be difficult.

  6. If I may exploit your kindness yet again…

    Do you reckon you could stuff a week’s worth of food in the pack? Usually, a 33-litre pack does me a summer overnighter and for winter I need to go up to a 44/45-litre pack. Would the Ultrahiker 60 have enough spare space for a week’s provisions? It’s not clear to me whether it has an extendable collar, for instance.
    Thanks in advance,
    W.

    1. I could certainly pack enough for a week, which is one reason that I bought it. I find it a bit of a squeeze using the Mariposa or Ohm, but the Ultahike is noticeably more roomy. The other issue is that a week’s worth of food is quite heavy. I reckon a base weight of around 10kg is reasonable for a true wilderness walk (e.g. Scotland). Therefore with a week’s worth of food you are probably looking at 13-15 kg allowing for fuel and some water as well. The Ultrahike should cope easily with this. While the Mariposa and Ohm could cope, both feel a bit uncomfortable with loads over about 12kg. It does have an extendable collar BTW but it’s not that deep.

      Hope that helps.

  7. Splendid, Robin, just the info I needed. I’m planning a week’s hike in Isolation Shepherd country and I need something lighter than my Aether 70 but more comfortable and roomy than my OMM Mountain Mover and the Ultrahiker may be the thing that fills the gap.
    Final thing, then I shut up…: it doesn’t have a front pocket, does it? That’s something I’d miss, but I suppose the other features are really appealing.
    Thanks a million for the very useful advice.

    1. No there’s no front pocket. The side pockets are quite roomy. There is some bungee cord on the lid and some (small) loops to attach cord on the front. The lid pocket is a decent size as well.

  8. I said I’d shut up but here I am again (splendid reports on your Lakes trip btw. Never hiked there, and it was quite surprising to me to hear that stags are unusual there. This time of year up here in Scotland they make their presence felt everywhere so to think of the hills without them feels a bit weird!)

    Anyway, last (ahem) question: in terms of comfort, in your review of the Exos you rated it the least comfortable of the three packs you had at the time. Unless I’m missing something, in this review you’re not explicitly rating the Ultrahike in terms of carrying comfort. Does it carry substantially better than the Exos? I do have a Talon 44 which fits me perfectly and carries ever so well. The Ultrahike should give me more volume than the Talon, but I’d certainly miss all the very useful pockets of the Talon (roughly the same as on the Exos). And the Talon gives me no bother at all on the shoulders because the straps are never wider than 2.5 inches, whereas I suspect that the ones on the Ultrahike are pushing towards 3/3.5 inches? But if you were to say that it carries better than the Exos then I’ll really give it a go…
    Sorry, I shouldn’t burden you with this kind of responsibility… Won’t blame you if it turns out it ain’t a good fit.
    Anyway, back on the Lakes trip: not sure if you’ve ever done autumn trips to the Highlands, the Scotland trip reports on your blogs are mostly May trips by the look of it. I’d really recommend taking your chances with the weather and heading up here in the autumn. It’s just a very special time of year to be camping out.

    1. The Exos is not uncomfortable but has two issues: 1) the frame makes it quite rigid, 2) the air gap makes the pack pull back slightly so you notice you have to lean forward a bit.

      The Ultrahike has neither of these drawbacks. It is more flexible than I thought it would be and it carries close to your back. No pack is perfect (yet) but I think it is up there as the most comfortable pack. The only reason I would not make it the perfect pack is that the lower finger of the hip belt caused some slight tenderness. I think this is because the plastic finger needs to be broken in a bit. In summary I think it carries better than the Exos. It is different to the Mariposa Plus. The Mariposa Plus is more flexible but the hip belt means it can’t take more than 12kg. The Ultrahike will easily manage heavier loads. One thing to watch is that the hip belt would be too big for anyone with a waist under 33″. Hope that helps. I’ll measure the width of the Ultrahike shoulder straps and report back.

      I was going to go to the Cairngorms in october but logistics got in the way. Next year I’m hoping to be up there, maybe twice.

  9. Thanks for your patience, Robin, that’s terrific. I’ve done a bit more googling around, there seems to be more feedback on German blogs than in the Anglo-Saxon world. But the thing is, all the comments I’ve found agree with you that it’s a very comfortable pack indeed.
    I’m fine about the 33″ because I’m 34/36″ (depends on the level of fitness!) so the M2 size should suit me fine.
    I’m sold on this pack. I’m sure it’ll carry more stuff than the Talon 44 (although I’m losing the hip belt pockets and the three tiny but useful safety pockets) and it should be even more comfortable.
    Last thing left to decide is the colour!
    And I so wish Lightwave had better distribution in this country so that one could take a closer look instead of bothering the ever so kind bloggers out there!
    Thanks once again!

    1. The shoulder straps are 3″ at their widest.

      I had an email exchange with Carol McDermott, the designer who said the the UK was a difficult market as it was dominated by the big chains. Europe is a better market for Lightwave.

      I, too, found more about the Ultrahike on German blogs than UK blogs. I hope my posts restore some balance. There will also be a review on BPL.com soon.

  10. Thanks yet again, Robin.
    I’ve had another look at my Talons and my OMM packs. I suspect the reason why I find the OMM uncomfortable is because the shoulder strap are sawn in fairly close together on the pack (2″ separation between them) and they are wider than on the Talons. On the Talon there’s a good 3″ separation between the straps so they don’t cut into my chest.
    From your picture (bless ya!) it seems clear the straps on the Ultrahike are well separated (at least 3″ by the look of things) and so that should ensure I’ll be all right (and that’s why folks say it’s a very comfortable carry!).
    That sorts it then, once I decide which colour to go for I’ll place an order!
    Your help has been invaluable, Robin. No question that your posts will both restore balance in the coverage of the pack and perhaps help Lightwave establish a stronger presence in the shops.
    Cheers!

    1. The gap between the shoulder straps where they meet the pack body is 2.5″ and 5″ at the top of the shoulder. I chose grey because it will go with anything!

  11. Thanks for the review!
    I am looking for a new pack and just like you I have a Tarptent Scarp, though mine is 2-person model.
    Why do you put your tent in the sidepocket? Would not Scarp fit inside?

    1. It would have to go vertically in the sack. That doesn’t suit my personal packing system. Also keeping it outside means I can access it in rain without opening the main sack.

  12. After using my Ultrahike a few times I noticed a de-lamination problem with the material on the neck, a photo of the problem can be seen here http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g109/tbeasly/IMG_3661.jpg the ultrahike has not been used that much and has certainly not had a hard life (yet).

    I am concerned that lightwave have used a faulty batch of 40d nylon material and I am wondering if anyone else has had this problem.

    I contacted Lightwave a few days ago to point out the problem, they have yet to get back to me.

    I will update if and when they do.

    Tony

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